An online travel agent has had its knuckles rapped by the advertising watchdog after a customer complained that a holiday promotion on its website was misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against, based in Clwyd, Wales, after a customer had tried to buy a holiday advertised on its website offering a seven-night holiday in Alicante for two adults for £696, but which the company was then unable to sell at the quoted price.

Sunmaster said it was “unable to locate the quoted deal reference number in the ad”, which it claimed could be a result of the deal expiring after 72 hours if the customer did not proceed with the booking request.

According to the ASA, the company said it could only assume that the customer did not proceed with the online booking request and subsequently contacted a sales agent via telephone but failed to quote the deal reference number.

If the customer had called on a different day, said Sunmaster, then the holiday may have been unavailable for £696, and added that flight prices could fluctuate in a matter of minutes and depended on the number of seats available, seats being released and enquiries made.

Although the ASA understood that Sunmaster was an online travel agent and therefore had less control over flight prices than other travel providers, it ruled that the company was responsible for demonstrating that its holidays were available at the advertised prices. 

The ASA said: “The complainant explained that, having seen the ad, they submitted their details into the website in order to book the holiday and were subsequently informed that they would be contacted shortly to finalise the details.”

The customer forwarded an email sent to them by Sunmaster which stated: “Thank you for requesting your holiday with Our travel team will attempt to contact you by telephone within the next 48 hours to confirm the details of your chosen holiday and to complete your booking.”

It indicated that the total cost of the holiday was £430.31 but excluded flights and quoted a difference reference number to that in the ad.

The customer said they were contacted by telephone the next day and informed that, because the flights could not be found, the confirmation email related to the holiday without flights but that the price of the holiday had increased to £800.

“Sunmaster said it was clear from the different reference numbers that the complainant had not completed the online booking form at the time the £696 price was quoted,” said the ASA. “However, we considered that, because the ad offered flights at a specific price as part of the holiday, they were responsible for demonstrating that the holiday features detailed on the website were accurate whether or not customers completed an online booking form.

“Because we had not seen any evidence demonstrating that the elements of the package making up the £696 claim were available to consumers, we considered that the claim that the holiday was available for £696 had not been substantiated. We therefore concluded that it was misleading.”

The watchdog ruled that the advert must not appear again in its current form, and told Sunmaster to hold evidence to prove the availability of its holidays at the advertised prices.